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‘Innocence of Muslims’ producer could get prison time

Published time: September 26, 2012 16:01
Edited time: September 26, 2012 20:01
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (R) is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California.(Reuters / Bret Hartman)

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (R) is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California.(Reuters / Bret Hartman)

The California filmmaker who produced the anti-Muslim movie that sparked uproar across the Middle East may end up behind bars pending the results of an upcoming probation case.

Federal investigators are inquiring as to if Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind the notorious “Innocence of Muslims” movie, violated the terms of his parole by uploading a 14-minute trailer of the film to YouTube.

As part of the sentencing handed out to him for a 2010 check fraud conviction, Nakoula is barred from using computers or the Internet except with the permission of his probation officer. If Nakoula was not authorized by his supervisor to upload the video, prosecutors could ask a judge to send him back to prison. Because that earlier conviction didn’t involve any crime specifically relating to filmmaking or YouTube, though, there is likelihood that his probation officer did in fact sign off on allowing Nakoula access to the Web.

Nakoula served nearly two years for his role in a chick kiting scheme, and court records indicate that afterwards he agreed to assist the government by working as a federal informant in their attempts to indict another individual suspected of fraud. Nakoula has since reentered the radar of authorities in recent weeks after the footage he uploaded to the Internet has been directly linked to a series of violent protests around the Muslim world.

In the clip of “Innocence of Muslims” available on YouTube, the Islamic prophet Mohammed is portrayed as a pedophiliac, womanizing savage. Since being discovered in the Middle East, the movie has caused condemnation to be directed at both the United States and the auteur.

On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama briefly discussed the film before the United Nations General Assembly, saying, “We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.”

“I know there are some who ask, 'Why don't we just ban such a video?'" the president said. "The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech."

Initially, the White House suggested that the September 11, 2012 slaying of US Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya was in retaliation for Nakoula’s film. Since his death, though, several authorities in both Libya and America have made claims that the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi was not in conjunction with a similar assault in Cairo that day blamed on the film, but was a planned terrorist attack, perhaps even orchestrated by known affiliates of al-Qaeda.

Mark Werksman, a defense attorney in Los Angeles and a former federal prosecutor, tells the Associated Press that even if Nakoula is found guilty of violating his parole, the damage has already been done.

"This case breaks the mold," Werksman tells the AP. "If the video hadn't gone viral, and caused the Arabic world to blow up, who would care if this guy is using YouTube? It's all about politics with this guy."

Heidi Rummel of the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law adds that she has her doubts that Nakoula will be found in violation.

"Usually the probation officer will be most interested in preventing him from engaging in any kind of activity related to the original crime, so another factor would be what kind of permission did the probation officer give him?" she says. "Why would (the film) be of concern in a bank fraud case? That's a whole nother wrinkle."

Earlier this week, Pakistani Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour offered $100,000 to “anyone who murders” Nakoula.

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